The New Year presents new opportunities to explore the American experience through art and ideas. Today, we check in with Curator of Collections Kirsty Buchanan about the organization’s evolving vision and the exhibitions and programming planned for the year ahead.
What inspired the theme? Why is it relevant?
The Rockwell’s 2020 theme, ADVANCING WOMEN, is a call to action. Inspired by the centenary of women’s suffrage in the United States, a movement that first gained momentum here in western New York State, our theme was chosen to shine a light on the progress women have made both within and outside the art world. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, The Rockwell Museum acknowledges that gender equality has not yet been realized in our nation.
ADVANCING WOMEN was also chosen as an active response to the under-representation of women artists throughout American institutions. According to the 2010 census, women comprise 50.8% of the U.S. population. In contrast, just 13% of the artists with work on view in major institutions were women, according to a 2019 study. As our culture looks to reckon with the damage done by centuries of patriarchy, it’s clear that a combination of time and work is required to remove its stain. Deeply entrenched cultural biases have prevented a fair and open art market and restricted equal access to resources. Women artists, queer artists and artists of color often do not receive support in equal measure to that experienced by their white, straight male counterparts from galleries, collectors, scholars or museums. It’s time to change this!
How does it relate to our mission?
Through compelling exhibitions and imaginative programs, The Rockwell Museum provokes curiosity, engagement and reflection about art and the American experience. The multi-faceted and wildly diverse nature of that experience is often left out of discussions about it, however. In 2020, more than ever, The Rockwell’s collections, exhibitions and programming will reflect that diversity.
Today, roughly 32% of the objects on view in The Rockwell’s permanent galleries are by women makers. During my tenure, we have strategically diversified not only the works on view but also acquisitions and commissioned works to broaden the scope of the permanent collection. We have made progress, but our work is not done. It is in this spirit of diversity that we commit to this 2020 annual theme with an additional pledge. In partnership with the Executive Director and the Collections Committee of the Board of Trustees, we will exclusively pursue acquisitions by women artists at The Rockwell in 2020!
What can visitors expect to see?
In 2020, our dynamic exhibition calendar features Kara Walker: Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated) on loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Prints by Women from the University of Georgia Art Museum. We will also serve as the only venue for Precursors of American Abstraction: Featured Quilts from the Holstein Family Collection, curated by The Rockwell from a private New York collection.
In addition, lectures and programs in 2020 will feature a variety of speakers, including three leaders from the Smithsonian Institution. The year’s diverse lecture series will speak to a wide range of topics, including how women have been memorialized, represented in art and worked as creatives. The speaker lineup will offer the opportunity to recognize such an important milestone while exploring issues of equal rights today.
What are you personally most excited about?
Personally, I am most excited about our annual Antigravity Project for 2020, which will feature a site-specific installation by guest artist Elaine Ng. Ng is an emerging artist whose practice explores our collective knowledge of place through material investigation and explorations of physical and psychological structures of site. She will be creating a unique work of art that responds to the architectural space of The Rockwell’s entrance rotunda. Suspended from the rotunda’s ceiling, Ng’s installation will be one of the first objects that guests encounter when they visit The Rockwell. Each project in this ongoing series is intended to challenge viewers’ preconceptions of The Museum while aesthetically preparing them to engage with objects on view from the permanent collection. Ng’s work is expected to blend natural materials together with a strong sense of movement, while providing a delicate counterpoint to the weighty Romanesque Revival architecture of the building.
Advancing Women in Public Art: Priorities, Pitfalls, Possibilities
Thursday, January 23, 2020
Erika Doss, Professor of American Studies at Notre Dame and Author of Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America
Artistic Legacy: Haudenosaunee Women and Raised Beadwork
Tuesday, February 18, 2020
Karen Ann Hoffman, Niio Perkins and Wilma Zumpano
What it Means to be Free: The Woman’s Revolution in American Entertainment
Tuesday, March 17, 2020
Dwandalyn Reece, Curator of Music and Performing Arts at the National Museum of African American History and Culture
Women in Philanthropy: From Isabella Graham to Isabella Stewart Gardner
Wednesday, April 15, 2020
Amanda Moniz, David M. Rubenstein Curator of Philanthropy in the Division of Work and Industry at the Smithsonian’s
National Museum of American History
Kara Walker and History’s Shadows
Friday, May 15, 2020
Sarah Newman, James Dicke Curator of Contemporary Ar at the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Advancing Women Exhibitions
Prints By Women: Select Works from the Georgia Museum of Art
Organized by the Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia, Athens
On View: January 31 – April 26, 2020
Three Generations: Paintings By Pablita Velarde, Helen Hardin and Margarete Bagshaw
On View: January 10, 2020 – January 2021
Treasures of Haudenosaunee Beadwork
On View: February 14 – June 7, 2020
Antigravity: Elaine Ng
On View: March 19, 2020 – February 2021
Kara Walker’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated)
On loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum
On View: May 15 – September 7, 2020
Precursors of American Abstraction: Quilts from the Holstein Family Collection
On View: September 24, 2020 – January 2021
 Published by the nonprofit Public Library of Science organization, with contributions from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Association of Art Museum Directors.